Saturday, September 26, 2015

Subtract One

It is always better to be slightly underdressed.
Coco Chanel

A lot of what we see, read, hear and consume is about adding. You need to add more servings of fruits and vegetables. You need to add an exercise plan. You need to add some key pieces to your wardrobe or a new positive habit.

And so it is with subtracting. You need to cut calories. You need to de-clutter and get rid of your stuff. You need to embrace a less is more attitude. Edit your Facebook friend list. Purge negativity.

This post isn't about either of those ways of adding or subtracting. This post isn't about Common Core Math either.

This post reminds me of an old allegorical piece of advice by Coco Chanel. I had trouble finding her exact words online - there were many different versions attributed to her. The gist of it is that a well-dressed woman puts on all of the clothes and jewelry she wants to wear. Then right before leaving the house, she looks in the mirror and removes one item.

She does not mean one shoe, a purse or a dress. What she means is an accessory. So if the elegant woman is wearing a necklace, earrings and a bracelet, maybe she removes the bracelet. Or she keeps all the jewelry and removes the silk scarf.

Just because I quoted Coco Chanel once and paraphrased her once does not mean that I admire her. But even if a person is a Nazi sympathizer and a terrible anti Semite, they have small pockets of usefulness and even wisdom.

Coco Chanel is not a person I would want to get to know, but she was a fashion expert. I am not a fashion expert and I am not anti-Semite. I am not nearly as well dressed.

This is not about clothes. It is about time. For today's purposes, it is about what we call leisure time. It could be applied just as easily to any old time. But I'm starting small.

It's the weekend. Or a vacation. It's a free evening or a wide swath of time when you are not at work. Whatever it is, it is a time when you would like to catch up on a few things and also have some fun.

So you make some plans. This is a good idea.  If you don't make plans, time will just be whittled away.

Some people make just the right amount of plans for that specific day. My mother does this really well. I like to think I do too. But it took some trial and error and a learning curve for me.

I got good at it. That's why I'm giving advice. If you're already good at it, you can stop reading now and go do something else.

Here is a weekend scenario.

You plan a Saturday. You'll get up early to play golf with friends you haven't seen in a while. You'll have lunch at the club. Then you'll swing back home to take Billy and Tommy to baseball practice and while they're with the coach you'll stop by the gourmet market for provisions for tonight's barbecue. You'll drive back and watch practice for a few minutes, and take the kids home. Then you plan to jump in the shower, crack open a beer and man the charcoal in time to greet your friends and their kids for some adult fun and conversation while the kids play together.

Maybe you're energized by this day. Maybe you've got this time management thing down.

Or maybe on closer examination, you aren't so happy. You feel frazzled. Your partner is angry because you were 20 minutes late in picking up the kids and in your haste you forgot the beer for the barbecue. Or maybe everything came together fine, but you didn't bet on the traffic and the shower became a casualty. You feel hot and sticky and somewhat grouchy for the rest of the day.

You can't wait to go to work on Monday because the weekend of relaxing activities has left you feeling exhausted.

Here's another scenario. You plan a romantic long weekend trip to NYC. It's a beautiful day and the weather is perfect. You surprise your partner with a day of fun including a view from the top of the Empire State building, a stroll through Central Park and an exploration of Chinatown topped off with dinner. After that a cab ride to the theater district for the hottest show.

The whirlwind may be perfect for just the two of you. Some people are invigorated by this wall-to-wall activity.

But maybe your partner wanted to linger at one of these places. Or it's actually over-stimulating for both of you. You find yourselves bickering at dinner, and secretly wanting to go back to the hotel and bag the Broadway play.

Add a child or two to the above plans and expect some meltdowns.

This is supposed to be fun.

If you're enjoying yourself most weekends, having a sense of accomplishment and rejuvenation, are feeling good and refreshed after an evening out, then keep doing what you're doing.

But if you are miserable, your friends are mad because you're always late, your kids aren’t having as much fun as you imagined, you've over-complicate and over-plan,  you wonder where the time goes, the neighborhood association is complaining because you never cut the lawn, dinner is always sneaking up on you, you have a pounding tension headache on vacation, and the office feels like a spa after your ski excursion, then I have a simple solution.

Make your plans for the day. Then remove one thing from the schedule.

There are fancier ways of managing your time. I'm suggesting something simple.  Tweak later when you're better at this.

Subtract something. Just one thing. It’s the little black dress of time management and it will change your life.

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